The idea of having the freedom to choose what we want to do in life is a fundamental doctrine of the Constitution. While most people agree with this concept they often fail to understand that unless we make the right choices we can lose our freedom.
Today we often hear people say that we should have the freedom to do whatever we want. If we want to burn the American flag, we should have the right to do so. If we want to condemn our American way of life, no one should be allowed to stop us from speaking. If we want to protest things we don't like, the Constitution says we can and should let our voice be heard.
While it may be true that we have the right to choose what we want to do, it is also true that every action we take has it consequence for both good and bad. Therefore, freedom isn't something that allows us to be completely free in our actions. It comes with strings attached in the form of consequences which often times we have no control over. As such, if we want to continue enjoying the blessings of liberty then it is imperative that we continue making correct choices in all areas of our life for without doing that we will lose the ability to make the choices we want. This is why societies must pass laws to make it illegal to engage in certain behavior.
To some, this sounds like double talk when they are told that we can only have more freedom by limiting the number of choices we're allow to make. Their argument is that if we aren't allowed to do certain things then we are not really free. To them, true freedom means doing whatever we want without being punished for the way we behave. According to the way they look at things, to be forced by law to make only certain, approved choices and being denied the opportunity to make other choices doesn't make sense
ILLUSTRATING THE FLAWS OF THE ARGUMENT
There are two problems with this argument. The first is that it is based on the erroneous assumption that our ability to choose is gone once we have made a decision to behave a certain way. For example, when someone goes to a restaurant, there may be twenty dinners on the menu for them to choose from, but just because they choose one of those items doesn't mean that the other nineteen are no longer available to them. It simply means that, after surveying all the choices available, they then make a decision of which one they want.
Now, imagine going to a restaurant where there are only two items on the menu. The customer still has the right to make a decision of which one they want, but the number of options from which they can choose has been greatly reduced. Instead of having a wide variety of choices, they now have a very limited selection. If the customer was in the mood for eating seafood but the only two choices on the menu was a hamburger or a cheese pizza, although they might not like either choice they would be forced to chose between two disagreeable options.
In the same way, our freedom allows us to choose from many different options but if we make the wrong choices in life, we may find ourselves in a position where our future ability to choose has become significantly reduced. When that happens we see the second fallacy of demanding that we be allowed to do whatever we want, which is the consequences of our actions.
This principle can be illustrated by looking at the number of options for accumulating money. We can either go to work for a company as an employee, or start our own business and become the employer, or we can invest in stocks and bonds, or we can rob a bank. Each of these options has their own positive as well as negative consequences, but we are free to decide for ourselves which option we want to choose.
However, if we decide to rob a bank and then get caught, we will very likely find ourselves spending time in jail. When that happens, our ability to choose becomes restricted because we lose the options of starting our own business, investing in stocks or even robbing a bank again. In jail, the only option available for making money is to work as an employee in the prison system.
On the other hand, if a person decides they want to accumulate money by working for a company, they still have the option of starting their own business, investing in stocks, or robbing a bank. Just because they have decided on one of these four options doesn't eliminate their ability to choose from the other three at a later date. Even if they decide that they will never rob a bank no matter how bad they might need money, doesn't change the fact that they still have that option available to them.
Another example would be that of a person who decides to have the same meal every time they go to a certain restaurant. Should they do this, that doesn't mean they have no other option available to them. It just means they have chosen one option over all the others, which is no different than someone who picks a different meal each time they go to the restaurant because they too are choosing one option over all the others. In the same way, when we choose to make wise decisions, all other options are still available to us, but when we choice to make a decision that will promote a negative consequence, especially upon the community or the nation as a whole, it won't be long before the number of options we have available to choose from will become reduced.
To understand why, let's look at another illustration. A person who is healthy is able to get around and do many things, while someone who is sick at home is much more limited in what they can do. Not only is their movement confined to the house but even the energy needed to do what they want is drastically reduced. As a result, no matter how badly they want to do certain things, they don't have the ability to accomplish their goals. However, someone who is so sick that they must be confined to a hospital bed has even less options available to them. So, the degree of sickness affects how much we can do.
APPLYING THIS TO OUR NATION
In the same way, when we as a nation, make wise decisions about those things that affect all of us, rather than them restricting our freedom, we are able to enjoy doing more things but when we do things that are a detriment to our society, then more laws have to be written to protect the rights of its citizens from those who have chosen to act irresponsibly.
Even so, there are some who feel that when we voluntarily choose not to do something we are, in effect, restricting our own freedom by denying ourselves the option to do certain other things. But this too is a false argument.
To illustrate why, let's use the example of the restaurant again. If there are twenty dinners to choose from, it would be foolish to choose all twenty of them. First of all, we couldn't eat that much food at one time, and secondly, most people wouldn't want to spend that much money to eat one meal. Therefore, we survey all of the options available to us and then select the for one we feel is the best for us . But because we have settled on one choice out of twenty doesn't mean we have lost the freedom to choose. We have simply made the wisest choice out of all the choices available to us. That's what freedom of choice means.
Perhaps we might use a different example to demonstrate this principle. Suppose I am walking along a mountain trail and come to a cliff that drops a thousand feet. As I look down I see a shallow stream with rocks and boulders on either side. I have the option of jumping off the cliff with no parachute if I wanted to, but why would I want to do that? If the fall didn't kill me, I would certainly be severely injured and in a lot of pain. That, in turn, would cause me to incur tremendous hospital costs, I would lose money by not being able to work, and I would probably be confined either to a hospital bed or a wheelchair for the rest of my life, not to mention the burden I would be to my family and friends. Therefore, after weighing all the pros and cons, I decide not to jump over the edge of the cliff.
Even if I've made a firm decision not to ever jump, I haven't lost any of my freedom because the option of jumping is still available to me. But if I actually did jump, then suddenly I would lose the ability to do many other things I could do if I didn't jump. So, even though I have the freedom to jump, I choose not to do so in order to have more options available to me. But, just because I have made that decision, it doesn't do away with the option of jumping over the cliff.
In the same way, our Constitution allows us the freedom to chose to do what we want but if we make unwise choices, such as wanting the government to provide for our needs when we are unemployed, sick, needing an education, or wanting to buy a house, then, in time, we will find that, as our government takes over more and more of our decision making for us the amount of choices available to us in the future will be far less than they are now.
HOW FREEDOM IS MAINTAINED
Freedom can only be maintained when its people continually make wise choices of lifestyle because, when their conduct begins to ignore the consequences of their choices, thinking that freedom can exist independent of whatever they do, they will soon discover that the number of choices available for them to make will become fewer and less desirable.
Like the person who ends up in prison because of bad choices, if we, as a nation, voluntarily choose to violate the rules that guarantee our freedom we will someday find ourselves being chained to the harsh rules of a dictator who will decide for us what choices we will and will not be allowed to make. It therefore behooves us to learn to make wise choices in the things we do and to help encourage others to do the same because that's the only way to freedom.